The poster. Photo: Protein World via Facebook.
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The inspiring young feminists who took back the beach from Protein World

The women proving that to have a "beach body", you just need to take your body to the beach.

The day-to-day business of being a feminist involves a lot of sighing. Take the past couple of weeks, for instance, when London commuters have been subject to advertisements from Protein World asking women if they’re “beach body ready”. 

The posters have received widespread criticism everywhere from Have I Got News For You to Hadley Freeman's column in the Guardian. More than 70,000 people have signed a petition on change.org calling for their removal, saying the advertisements seek to make people “feel guilty”.

But some of the most glorious moments in feminism happen when a woman sees an attempt to shame her and goes: “Oh, you don’t like it when I do this thing I'm doing? Then I’m going to do it more. And I’m going to invite loads of other people to do it, too.”

So to Hyde Park, where Tara Costello, Fiona Longmuir and Juliette Burton have organised an event to “take back the beach”. After Tara posted a photo of herself giving the finger to the Protein World poster on the tube, Fiona contacted her over twitter. “We thought it’d be fun to say, of course you can look like this, she’s beautiful - but you don’t have to look like that to be beautiful,” Fiona tells me.

The pair photographed themselves standing by the poster in their bikinis and posted the pic to twitter, where it quickly got hundreds of retweets. “But then,” Longmuir adds, “we realised we’re only two body types. We decided to get as many different looking people as we could.”

Photo by Fiona Longmuir.

They proposed that others who were similarly disgusted with the Protein World message gather in their swimwear at Speaker’s Corner in London's Hyde Park, hoping to prove that you don't have to change your body before you can be comfortable in public. Both were surprised at the level of the support they received as the idea quickly went viral.

Unsurprisingly, there's also been some backlash. “Oh my gosh, yes,” says Longmuir when I ask her her about it. “There’ve been so many comments on my body it’s ridiculous, but it’s just kind of . . .” — at this point, she trails off; over my left shoulder, a group of women are approaching with a huge inflatable banana.

Tara Costello takes over. “When we were taking the photo I knew I’d get the worst [criticism], because the kind of society we’re in thinks if you’re not a size 10 you’re automatically fat, unfortunately. The surprising thing was that people e-mailed me really long, hateful things. That was the thing that took me aback. Wow, you actually took the effort to hunt down my e-mail and do this.

Juliette Burton, who has suffered from anorexia and believes that advertising like this can exacerbate mental health problems, has called the last week a "steep learning curve". The brand replied to her on Twitter when she criticised the advert and others quickly piled in, calling her the "definition of insanity" and an "ugly dyke".

Protein World reply to Juliette Burton.

 

Protein World's CEO even called the women “terrorists” - but the turnout here, where there must be a hundred women, suggests plenty are glad someone spoke out.

The people I meet cite all sorts of reasons for being there, but all of them are tired of sexist advertising. Some of the first to arrive are from Fourth Wave, a new feminist activist group in London. “We just think everyone should be able to go to the beach,” one of them tells me, laughing a little. “Not to be a supermodel, fine, but surely the beach should be alright.”

Protestors in Hyde Park. Photo: Fiona Longmuir

It’s clear that for many the adverts affected them personally. Lottie, who has come along with her mum Alison, explains that she’s had an eating disorder for ten years and is “pretty bored” with this sort of marketing. “I’m bored with having to put up with it, with not having any support. So we’ll support ourselves.”

Saffron Skye also suffered from an eating disorder when she was younger. “Seeing this advert everywhere telling girls it’s better to be skinny: I couldn’t stand for it.”

Plenty of men have come along too. For John from Bristol, it was his two young daughters that prompted it. “The whole body image thing you see in the media today isn’t really fair on them, or women in general.”

One group of teenage girls also note the demands placed on young women. “Because we’re all thirteen and fourteen, there’s a lot of pressure on our bodies at the moment,” one of them tells me. “We belong to a feminist group at school, and when we talked about body image it really struck us how upset everyone is with their bodies. We want everyone to accept that they’re beautiful, and this event is a step forward.”

Her friend agrees. “Yeah. Everyone could find one thing they hate about their bodies. It would be better if people loved themselves for who they are.”

Their solution? “Everyone should feel comfortable. You shouldn’t have anything you feel insecure about. Just live.”

If this is the next generation of feminists, I think as I get back on the Tube home, I give this sort of advertising ten years - tops.

 

The petition continues on change.org. Juliette Burton's live show 'Look at Me' is about body image and mental health. You can watch the trailer here on YouTube.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland

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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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